In Canada, participation in sport as a player or fan has always been popular. Whether it’s representing or cheering on our country at large events like the Olympics, or sharing in a community house league game, sports can be inspiring, entertaining, and even patriotic. Some sports have played an important role in shaping Canada’s national identity.
Baseball and hockey have a long history in Canada. Baseball and hockey emerged in Canada in the second half of the 19th Century, around the time of Confederation. This coincided with the emergence of organized sports associations and rising nationalism (Canadian identity) in sport. For this reason, sports like baseball and hockey played in important role in helping to develop a national feeling or sentiment.
For centuries these sports have taken Canadians on a ride of highs and lows. There have been moments of thrill, excitement, and pride in times of success, and moments of disappointment and angst in times of defeat.
Both sports have been very important to large cities like Toronto, but have played an important role in smaller counties, like Dufferin County, and towns like Orangeville. While hockey is an official sport in Canada, and the sport most closely associated with Canadian identity, baseball has played an important role in shaping rural communities.
In this exhibit we will be looking at the local history of participation in hockey and baseball in terms of both team supporters (fans), and players or teams.
Baseball Bat & Ball, DCMA Collection: A205-113-15 & A205-113-18
Baseball emerged as an organized sport in the 1830s. The first recorded baseball-type game to take place in Canada took place June 4, 1838 in Beachville, Upper Canada. The first Canadian team, the Young Canadians of Hamilton, was formed in 1854. The first Canadian league was formed in 1876 with teams from Kingston, Toronto, Hamilton, Guelph and London. This was overshadowed by the formation of a National League in the United States designed to monopolize the best baseball players. A decision in 1886 saw Toronto join the American League, ending independence from American-led organizations. This hardly mattered to small communities all over Canada, which had embraced and fallen in love with the game.
Let’s explore two artifacts representing the history of baseball in rural communities. The first is a baseball bat. It is light brown with red stripes, which appear to be hand painted. The second artifact, a baseball, would have been white when first bought, but now is brown and rough from use and time.
The bat and ball are from about the 1930’s, and belonged to Mr.Hector Raymond Ferguson, a farmer in the village of Redickville in Melancthon Township.
Mr. Ferguson Played softball for as a child and went on to play competitive softball when he turned 20. Later in his life, he became a coach for community softball teams so that he would be able to pass on his love for softball to the younger generations of Redickville.
Hector Ferguson lived until the age of 94, passing in 2005. He is buried in the South Line Union Cemetery at Badjeros. It is fairly safe to assume that his active lifestyle helped contribute to his longevity.
The study of this bat and ball are a great way to explore the significance of baseball in Canada’s history. Canada has a long history with baseball, particularly in rural communities were it is one of the most played sports.
In rural communities like Redickville or Badjeros, baseball was so much more than just a game — it was an important part of community identity. Baseball brought people in rural communities together, provided entertainment and a social scene.
Baseball played an important role in helping communities fundraise to build and support essential services such as schools and churches. Baseball was often the game of choice during summer garden parties and fairs. As such, the game of baseball played a role in bolstering community traditions and celebrations.
For players like Mr. Hector Raymond, baseball provided an outlet for athleticism, but also provided him with a way to give back to his community.
Baseball was very popular in Canada during the 1930s, rivaling lacrosse as Canada’s favourite summer sport. Almost every town had its own team and local league. By this time, there were even Canadian-born professional baseball players on 8 of the 16 MLB teams.
In 1946, a significant moment occurred in baseball history and Canadian history. This was the year that Jackie Robinson became the first black player in modern “organized” baseball when he took the field with the Montreal Royals. Each year on April 15, players wear number 42 in honour of Jackie Robinson and his efforts in helping to end the colour-barrier in major-league baseball.
In 1977, Canada got its first MLB team, The Toronto Blue Jays. This shows that even though Canada was a hockey nation, baseball was popular enough for Toronto to have a MLB team.
In Dufferin County, one particular game garnered a great deal of attention and press. On June 22, 1937 at the Orangeville Agricultural Grounds, a very unusual game of baseball took place involving donkeys. The event involved players from the Rotary Club and Canadian Legion, and was intended to raise funds.
Donkey baseball reached the height of popularity in the 1930s. Companies were established that offered service clubs and organizations the chance to put popular locals in a tricky situation. Several variations existed, but in most cases, two teams played with all players mounted on donkeys except for the pitcher, catcher, and batter. By today’s standards, this could be considered animal abuse, but at the time, it was considered highly entertaining. Here is a video of donkey baseball from 1935.
In conclusion, whether played on a diamond in a small rural community or in a major-league stadium, baseball has been an important part of sporting culture in Canada for over 160 years. The sport of baseball has played an important and special role in shaping rural culture, traditions, and identity. For this reason, these artifacts represent so much more than just a great game — they represent community united by sport — with or without donkeys.
Children’s Hockey Sweater, ca. 1965, A200-087-1-1 A
My Canada case artifact is a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater from 1965. This sweater belonged to David Holmes, son of Arnold and Gwendolyn Holmes from Mill Street in Orangeville. It is child sized measuring 20.5 inches in length by 18 inches in width, with 17 inch long sleeves. These measurements suggest the sweater is a boy’s small or medium.
As “fan gear”, this sweater would have been worn to show support for ones favourite hockey team. The sweater is in very good condition, except for some loose stitching at the top of one shoulder. Based on this evidence, it appears that the sweater was not worn very much. This doesn’t necessarily mean David wasn’t a big fan of the Maple Leafs. Perhaps he outgrew the sweater, or liked it so much he didn’t want to get it dirty. On the other hand, perhaps he came to prefer a different team. Whatever the case, many boys enjoy cheering on their favourite team and following and emulating their favourite hockey players.
This hockey sweater might evoke memories of the classic children’s story “The Sweater” by Roch Carrier. It is the tale of a young boy in rural Quebec who idolized “The Rocket” Maurice Richard. When his mother sends away to Eaton’s for a new Montreal Canadian hockey sweater, he is sent a TML sweater by mistake. Upset, Roch did not want to wear the sweater.
Historically hockey sweaters were made out of coloured wool. This jersey is made with blue and white wool, which are the official colours of the Toronto Maple Leafs team. Today jerseys are typically made from synthetic fabrics such as polyester.
Today, official fan wear can only be produced by licensed companies Jerseys such as Bauer, Easton, CCM, and Reebok. This sweater, however, was made by a company by the name of Western. No information has been found on this company to date, so its history remains a mystery. It is quite possible that the sweater was purchased from a store like Eaton’s. It appears similar to the hockey outfits advertised in the Eaton’s catalogue in the 1950s and 60s (see below).
As one of the “Original Six”, the Toronto Maple leafs have had a long time fan base. The team was founded during the First World War, in 1917. The TML have won the Stanley Cup 13 times (11 times as the Maple Leafs, once as the Arenas and once as the St. Patricks). Even though the team has not won the Stanley Cup since 1967, they continue to have a following of dedicated fans, often known as “Leaf Nation”. Learn more about the history of the TML and hockey in Toronto here: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/toronto-maple-leafs/
Hockey also has a long history in Dufferin County, played out on frozen ponds, rivers, and arenas. In towns and villages across the County, communities organized teams. Organized hockey was a great way to embrace winter and get exercise. For spectators, it was an opportunity to come together as a community for entertainment and a social atmosphere. The local newspapers would regularly report on games, especially matches between long-time rivals.
Below are some pictures of local hockey teams from the Dufferin County Archives. (Click on the pictures to see captions.)
Since Canada is considered the birthplace of hockey, and because the sport is so popular and synonymous with Canadian culture and identity, it was made an official national sport. Canadians have often been unified through the game of hockey, especially during international competitions such as the ’72 Summit Series. Canadians, whether hockey fans or not, tend to take pride in the names of great Canadian hockey players such as Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Guy Lafleur, Mark Messier, Ray Bourque, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, and the list goes on. Some of the players David might have been cheering on when wearing this sweater around 1965 could have been Johnny Bower (Goalie), Tim Horton (Defence), Mike Walton (Centerman), or George Armstrong (Centerman).
This artifact gives a small glimpse into hockey fandom and the history of the sport in Canada and Dufferin County. There is such a heartfelt reverence for the sport that people passionately support “their” team and proudly wear the teams colours and branding. For many Canadians, hockey is practically a religion.
Below is an infographic displaying some hockey-related statistics. The first graph shows the origins of NHL players by nationality. While it shows an increase in NHL players from outside of Canada, especially in recent years, the vast majority of players come from Canada and the United States. The second graph shows countries by the number of registered ice hockey players from 2016/2017. Similar to the first graph, Canada leads the way in registered hockey players. This data definitely speaks to the prevalence of hockey in Canada and justifies claiming the sport as “our game”.
Canada has a rich history in sports like Hockey and Baseball in international events, rural communities, and low level leagues. From playing pond Hockey to playing baseball to pass the time, Canadians find a way to take part in the things that they are pashnit about.
Sports make it possible for people to escape from their lives, giving them the ability to enjoy themselves in their free time, come together with their communities and families, and to represent their country in competitions and in the professional leagues when they play they are not only playing for their team but also their country.
Baseball Bat and Ball, DCMA Collection: A205-113-15 and A205-113-18
Baseball Reference. http://www.baseball-reference.com/bio/Canada_born.shtml. Accessed 22 Feb. 2018.
ESPN. http://www.espn.com/mlb/history/season/_/year/1930. Accessed 2 Mar. 2018.
Highbeam Research. http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-226086807.html. Accessed 6 Feb. 2018.
Humber, William. “Baseball.” Canadian Encyclopedia, 4 Mar. 2015, thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/baseball/. Accessed 8 Feb. 2018.
North Dufferin Baseball League. http://www.leaguelineup.com/welcome.asp?url=ndbl. Accessed 2 Mar. 2018.
Thorning, Stephen. The Wellington Advertiser. “Donkey Baseball was a popular attraction in the mid-20th Century. http://www.wellingtonadvertiser.com/index.cfm?page=colDetail&itmno=698. Accessed March 19, 2018.
Hockey Sweater, DCMA Collection: A200-087-1-1 A
CBC. http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/sports-junior/. Accessed 22 Feb. 2018.
Hutchinson, Jay, editor. About Sports. Sean Forman, Dec. 2007, http://www.hockey-reference.com/teams/TOR/1961.html. Accessed 22 Feb. 2018.
Lindsay, Peter L., and J. Thomas West. “Canadian Sports History.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 30 Sept. 2016, thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/sports-history/. Accessed 8 Feb. 2018.
“llHF.” Statista, edited by Tim Kröger, Friedrich Schwandt, Sept. 2017, http://www.statista.com/statistics/282349/number-of-registered-ice-hockey-by-country/. Accessed 26 Feb. 2018.